Pop Quiz! What did Milano-Sanremo and Gent-Wevelgem have in common? Answer: The Smash Cavendish.
In both races, the World Champion went out the back and never made the sprint. At Milano-Sanremo, Cavendish got dropped on Le Mánie. At Gent-Wevelgem, he fell behind on the final trip up the Kemmelberg. But in both races, the time gaps over the summit of the climbs between Cavendish and the other favorites were actually quite small.
And this is where the Smash Cavendish comes in. At Milano-Sanremo, BMC Racing Team and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step went to the front in the flats after Le Mánie and set off the watt bombs. Bam! Despite the best efforts of Team Sky, the gap went out and out and out, until finally, all hope was lost.
At Gent-Wevelgem, it was again Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, looking to set up eventual winner Tom Boonen, who did the damage. Katusha also joined in the fun, in the hope of setting up Oscar Freire who finished a painfully close second to Boonen at the E3 Harelbecke. Katusha and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step set a furious tempo at the front. Another day, another drag race, with Cavendish trying desperately to get back to the field.
When the gap hit one minute, Cavendish tried to go up the road alone, but really, he could not have been fooling anyone with that move. Maybe he wanted to show his fancy rainbow jersey to the cameras, or maybe he was simply frustrated at being caught behind yet again. After all, Cavendish wasn't that far behind over the summit of the climbs. It was what happened next that doomed his hopes. The Smash Cavendish, it's a deadly thing.
There's a lesson here of course. If you want to win a bike race, it isn't enough to get a gap on the climb. It's often what happens after the climb that matters most. Marianne Vos knows this well. She won this weekend's Trofeo Alfredo Binda World Cup this weekend by attacking on the climb and scorching the descent. Credit to Evie Stevens, by the way, for being on the right wheel at the right time, but Stevens still has a bit of work to do on the bike handling front. No matter, it'll come. Vos also won a Giro Donne stage this way: Attacking near the summit of the Passo di Mortirolo and railing the descent. It's not just what happens on the climb, it's what happens next.
The ProTour field has clearly got Cavendish's number. Push hard on the climbs, yes. And then, be ready to drill the flats to snap the elastic. It's a measure of the talent on Cavendish, really. Nobody wants to reach the final kilometer with him in the field. So determined are all the teams to prevent this outcome, that they are willing to work together to prevent it. The Smash Cavendish, who will try it next?
So Tom Boonen joins Rik Van Looy and Mario Cipollini in the three-times club for Gent-Wevelgem. This Boonen, so on fire right now. Though Fabian Cancellara tried an escape, Boonen's team kept him on a tight leash. Boonen's team, also on fire right now. It's tempting to hand Boonen the Ronde victory right now. But the Ronde van Vlaanderen is a different beast altogether. There are no gifts there.
If the Smash Cavendish were a cocktail, what would the ingredients be?